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U.S. sheep producers challenged to meet big goals

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SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The U.S. sheep industry was challenged to embrace some lofty goals during the West Central States Wool Growers Convention, which included ranchers from Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

Superior Farms CEO Rick Stott, a keynote speaker, challenged the sheep industry to set a goal of doubling per capita lamb consumption in the U.S. over the next five years, from 1 pound to 2 pounds.

He also asked sheep producers to embrace the goal of increasing the ewe lambing rate from 1.1 to 1.5 within the next five years.

The ewe-to-lamb rate refers to how many lambs the average ewe produces annually that actually reach the market in the fall.

“We can no longer have small dreams,” Stott said, borrowing a quote from former President Ronald Reagan. “The future is much bigger than the past in this industry.”

The U.S. lamb industry faces a stiff challenge from Australia, because the strong U.S. dollar gives Australian producers a 30 percent margin advantage right off the bat, he said.

But significantly raising the ewe lambing rate and doubling domestic lamb consumption, while building the American lamb brand at the same time, would provide a significant boost to domestic producers, Stott said.

“I’m telling you, it can be done,” he said. “We are in for some very hard work. But we’ve got some great potential in this industry.”

Given that 40 percent of American consumers have never tried lamb, the goal of doubling lamb consumption in the U.S. is doable, Stott told Capital Press.

And because each ewe is genetically capable of birthing twins, achieving a 1.5 lambing rate could be done by culling the bottom 10 percent of ewes each year for five years, he said.

Each ewe means about a $9 profit for producers when it comes to covering operating costs, and increasing the ewe-to-lamb rate to 1.5 would take that profit amount to $64 a head, he said.

Producers reacted positively to Stott’s goals.

“Those are huge goals but they are achievable,” said Matt Mickel, president of the Utah Wool Growers Association. “I’m glad he threw them out there because it gives us something to strive for.”

People who attended the Nov. 17-19 convention said they were hopeful that President-elect Donald Trump’s victory could be positive for the industry, especially when it comes to issues such as over-regulation, litigation by environmentalists and grazing on public lands.

“We’re optimistic that some changes will occur,” said Stan Boyd, general manager of Rocky Mountain Sheep Marketing Association.

Boyd said the biggest change that would help the sheep industry is reform of burdensome regulations because “the industry is just simply over-regulated.”

Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council, which advocates for western sheep and cattle ranchers, said his group would submit to the new administration a comprehensive list of recommendations that could benefit the industry.

They will include reform of the Endangered Species Act and Antiquities Act and cutting down on litigation abuse by environmental groups.

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